Annabelle

So I went to an advanced screening of Annabelle and I gotta say while not an outstanding horror film, it was much better than I expected it to be.

The point of this movie is to serve as a sort-of prequel/spin-off to James Wan’s mega-horror-hit The Conjuring. Personally, I see that film as one of the best horror movies of the last 15 years. It’s obvious that Warner Bros. knows that most of the public feels the same way which is why the marketing for this film relies so heavily on this film being connected to it. In reality, the only connection is their version of the Annabelle doll.

The film is meant to show us the origins of the Annabelle doll. Why it becomes evil, why it follows certain people around and eventually, how The Warrens ended up with her. The story opens a year before nurse Debbie and her roommate are terrorized by Annabelle. Dr. John Form [Ward Horton] and his doll collecting, pregnant wife Mia (one of many nods to Rosemary’s Baby) [Annabelle Wallis] are living in Santa Monica starting their life together. They go to church, have caring neighbors and are just happily loving life. Being 1969, the characters are shown in this strange limbo of moving out of a more wholesome time when people could leave their front doors unlocked and hearing about the Manson Family on the news (used in a more than exploitative manner here). One day John comes home with a special porcelain doll to complete a set Mia’s been putting together. She loves it, even though it’s quite hideous and merrily adds it to the collection.

The terror starts when, Annabelle Higgins, the estranged daughter of their next door neighbors returns with her crazy hippie boyfriend to wreak occult havoc on her parents. The carnage spills over into John and Mia’s home, with Mia being injured, crazy hippie guy getting shot to death by the police and Annabelle taking her own life while holding the latest addition to Mia’s collection. After this event, the couple is understandably freaked out and take a few extra precautions around the home. Being a haunted house movie, strange occurrences start up with the characters barely taking notice until a fire starts in the home putting Mia in the hospital and causing her to give birth a little early. She refuses to return to the house which is fine because John just got a job in Pasadena. So the perfect little family unit moves to a fancy apartment building near the hospital, but of course things only get worse from here. With the help of a friendly neighbor and their priest, the Forms try to figure out how to end their problem.

This is a more than obvious attempt to ride the coattails of The Conjuring, but Annabelle is actually a decent horror movie. While there is a definitive plot running throughout, loosely based on the claims of the real-life victims, the film does focus more on creepy situations than bogging us down with a lot of dragged out exposition, though some exists. I’m more than fine with that. This movie is not meant to be taken as seriously as it’s predecessor, it’s a creepy doll movie. That’s it. Oh and there’s a ghost…and a demon…and Alfre Woodard running a creepy bookstore. Don’t go in with “horror classic” expectations and you’ll be alright.

The characters are believable enough and it was nice seeing some lead actors that I’m actually unfamiliar with, other than Alfre and Tony Amendola who played Father Perez. Overall the film did rely on a lot of cheap scares, but it did manage to pull out some truly terrifying moments and imagery as well. The score and sound effects help move the scares along as you would expect and the best moments are the ones that use the “less is more” angle. Being that the director is a long time collaborator of James Wan, some instances were reminiscent of Wan’s work, which is great being that this exists in a world they both shaped for cinema. From time to time you will get a sense of “been there, done that.” Either from the stylistic tones that are clearly lifted from everything Wan has done, especially Insidious, or from the homages to horror classics, but it’s OK. This movie is still a fun, creepy ride that stands on its own, even if you haven’t seen those other films. I also really enjoyed some of the plot twists throughout. Some things actually left me guessing and I appreciate that. I can’t have all of the answers all of the time.

A true stand-out sequence that I can only call the basement/storage room/elevator scene was comprised of fantastic imagery that I haven’t seen the likes of since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and Silent Hill 2 (the game, not the terrible movie sequel). The direction of the scene leads you down various paths so you think you know what’s going to happen next, but your expectations are cliché, and thankfully, not used. If you’re not crawling out of your seat when the elevator doors open, you never had a childhood fear of what lurked in the dark. This scene alone was almost worth the price of admission. It owes something to the two horror masterpieces I just mentioned as well as Rosemary’s Baby again.

A thought that stands out in my mind, as far as scare quality goes, is that I do not have that sense of dread making my way through my darkened house to climb into bed. That deep-rooted fear that a great horror film gives you after a late night viewing; it’s just not there this time around. However, the film did make me jump a time or two and gave me the creeps while I was viewing it and it was fun while it lasted. It’s a serviceable film, but probably won’t be remembered many years from now. If you are a big fan of these films I have to recommend seeing this. If you’re still unsure, you can always grab a cheap matinée or wait for a rental.

Maybe it’s because I initially had such low expectations, but I’m gonna give this film a solid B.

Annabelle is directed by John R. Leonetti, with James Wan serving as Executive Producer this time around. The film opens everywhere Friday October 3, 2014.

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The Conjuring

Well a week after its release I finally got to see The Conjuring. Not only was this one of my favorite films of the year, but it was absolutely director James Wan’s best film to date.

Based on one of the cases of famed ghosthunters/demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, we get a glimpse into what has been claimed to be their most horrific case. It follows the story of the Perron family, who move into a secluded farm house on a nice stretch of land and are quickly terrorized by a malevolent force residing inside their new home. I’ve always been intrigued by and respected the Warrens for not only doing their best to help those who were being afflicted, but that many of their cases resulted in them debunking supposed hauntings. They were not ones to run around telling families that their place was haunted to make money or build publicity. I really enjoyed the fact that this film portrayed them in a serious and real way and I loved seeing a true story brought to the screen in realistic and non-gratuitous manner. While a few details have been stated as being changed for “dramatic effect.” It’s still clear that if this really did happen that the film did it’s best to stick to the truth without much embellishment.

Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) lead the cast as Ed and Lorraine and are spot-on in their roles. They portray the couple as professionals and caring people, just like the real Ed and Lorraine. They are the true standouts of the film.

Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston step into the roles of Carolyn and Roger Perron, the parents of the tormented family.  Along with their five daughters, they try their best to protect themselves from the evil entity stalking the halls (and the scary fucking basement) of the old house. Throughout the movie we see how each member of the family and two of the Warrens’ assistants are terrorized throughout the investigation. As this happens we see a mystery unfold that may go in directions that you will not see coming.

This was a genuinely creepy film. It didn’t rely on cheap scares like many ghost films do, though one or two will make you jump. Everything else is just put out there to scare you, no jumps required. This is much more than a “fun horror flick,” it’s a truly scary film with a lot of more substance and some of the greatest dramatic sequences in any horror movie of the last decade. I got chills a few times and was always awaiting what horrible thing would happen next. It was great seeing a film that involves ghosts, witchcraft and possession done in a way that wasn’t over the top and turned goofy. Only a few moments in the final climax even came close to your standard possession movie, but was still handled far better than anything else since The Exorcist. If you are a fan of horror films please go see this movie. It is deserving of your money and you will not leave disappointed. You may be creeped out the rest of the day, but it’s well worth it.

A

From what I understand, another film with Wilson and Farmiga reprising their roles has been green-lit and I’m OK with that…as long as it’s not called The Conjuring 2 because the title is tied to this one particular case. Here’s hoping Hollywood won’t screw this up, but I won’t hold my breath.

The Conjuring

Full Official HD Trailer.

This is the first movie that I’ve heard of getting an R rating for the scares alone. The director asked the MPAA why the film was rated R and what they could do to get it back down to a PG-13 when there is no gore, sex or drugs in it and the board told him nothing. They had to keep it R for how disturbing and terrifying it is. Um…count me in!